It was a nervous trek; one where the unknown, hope and tremendous relief were my constant companions...one that continually took every bit of courage I could muster from beginning to end
Mortana (my horse), Nino and Tigawiss (my cats) and I crawled our way across the United States of America leaving 4 years of fires, smoke, evacuations and power outages behind...trading them for a land of water. Would I regret leaving the waves, the landscape that always reflected the heaven's mood, the salted air? I thought I'd be leaving water behind, but boy did I get that one wrong!
Have you ever sweat like you worked out harder than you've ever done in your life, only by stepping out of your house? I was shocked to experience the interior drenching that began when we hit Oklahoma City. By Little Rock Arkansas, my clothes were freshly washed from the inside out every time I got out of the truck or trailer. Did they need to be washed again, or would a hanger do the trick? A week later we were met by a hurricane's tail, which translates to tropical storm in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. I'd barely opened my car door when I was soaked by Dylan's 'Buckets of rain...buckets of tears...got all them buckets comin' out of my ears...'. Flash floods turned the street I'd just parked on into a river. The heat called for sandals, but the river called for Muck Boots!
Everyone said, 'What a great adventure...you're going to have so much fun!' In time it came, but I can't say the long haul across our great country was joyous. The night before our departure, I watched as the lighting stricken land, ever so close to my home town Jenner blazed the entire coast. It was closer than a half mile from that charming village with 26 years and half my life's history, and more importantly friend's homes that looked on the verge of being torched. Thankfully, the winds were blowing north-east. I felt the sense of being a horse, whose instinct is flight. All I could think was, "Get me outta here!" Stuart came to help me wrap 'The Ranch', which my dear friend Shirley had so generously and lovingly welcomed Mortana and I to nest in for 4 years. I'll forever be indebted to her, and will pass the sweet support that she and Stuart so often lent me to someone in need, somewhere down the road.
I awoke to ashes covering my trailer, truck, the house and ground. Burnt leaves were everywhere...trees whose time was up and whose souls now drifted south along the coast. My heart was overwhelmed by the emotion of leaving this place, my nervous system rattled by the proximity of the flames, which were the perfect metaphor for leaving that life behind. And yet I was excited.
The cats, Mortana and I buckled up and excitedly began our journey, only to scrape the corner of the house within 30 seconds of rolling, and bashing the side of my shiny new trailer. When I backed up to make the turn wider, the goose-neck nose of my trailer smashed the rear window out of my truck. Horrified is the best word I can find to express how I felt. We rounded the rest of the house, clearing the trees which had worried me. I said to the cats, "This is not going to stop us!" So many things had stopped this trip from happening for an entire year, I was determined to trudge over and through any and all obstacles that met us down the road.
Smoke filled the truck the entire length of California. Broken glass spilled into the truck every time we went over a bump. The cats were in their cages, but free to wander, and I worried it would hit them. I spent that first leg of the trip locating a rear window, thank goodness to blue-tooth, and finally secured one in Flagstaff, AZ. Our first stop was Bakersfield however, and I sure wished I'd done better research before selecting that stay-over horse campground. It was filthy, ugly and just plain bad. When the owner showed me the left-over manure filled stalls I asked if she had a clean one, to which she replied, "I'm too old to clean stalls." Needless to say, it was a joy leaving that place!
That morning as we approached the edge of California, temperatures were approaching 115. Further up north, when they hit 108, the cats began meowing because without the rear window, the air conditioner could no longer keep us cool. But as we approached the southern realms, my sister Gina and I were on the phone and she said, "Just go! Don't stop...just Go!" I agreed that my critters and I wouldn't stop at the border. Five minutes after that agreement, a warning sign came on indicating, "Trailer is disconnected from Truck" I couldn't believe it, but had no choice...I had to stop alongside the freeway, IN CALIFORNIA! It was now 119 and I was most worried about Mortana in that hot box without air circulation, and I was beside myself believing that the trailer had physically disconnected. A week before we left, I discovered that the locking mechanism on the trailer was so rusty after sitting for a year in the salt air on the coast. My friend Brian wire-wheel brushed it to free the plate that swings back and forth when attaching or dis-attaching it from the truck. Still, the rod that keyed that plate into place would only go half way down and would require complete machine shop dismantling to correct. When I went to mount the trailer to the truck hitch, I jammed it in as far as it would go. It was being held in by rust so tightly I figured it wasn't going anywhere, so I left without a proper keyed in lock. Now the warning hinted at my worst nightmare. We parked along the freeway with semis hissing by, which is never fun. I discovered that the temperature was so hot, the trailer's rubber electrical plug had turned to what looked like soft black licorice and it was literally falling out of the socket inside of the truck bed. Fortunately, I plugged into the alternative socket in the truck's bumper, and that fixed the problem. We sailed into Arizona, still nervous about what might happen next, and about keeping the trailer centered with our Ford F150; a small truck to be pulling such a big rig. It takes tremendous concentration keeping a rig centered in the road. I discovered that concentration doesn't lend itself to 'fun', though wonders would still embrace me as I left that dry, smoke-filled land, literally in the dust.
Flagstaff greeted us with a monsoon, and roadwork that left very little margin of error if one wished to avoid hitting the guard rails or neighboring vehicles. The massive semis boxed us in, splashing so much water onto us I could barely see ahead, let alone behind as I nervously glanced back at the trailer with Mortana hanging on, or rather being tossed to and fro like a ship at sea. But oh, Flagstaff is beautiful. Red earth formations with layer upon layer of the earth's history, laid back pine trees, inviting mountains, voluminous clouds and pristine air were welcomed sensations. We decided it was time to regroup. My dear friend Adam was a Godsend that night on the phone. I needed to release the emotions, the terror of what I'd just been through, the feeling I was leaving a great segment of my life behind, and the worry that the trip would continue along the route we'd just come through. Adam told me I was an incredible woman. He said, "YOU'VE GOT THIS!" "YOU CAN DO THIS!" He told me that the trip had begun on a very bad note, and that bad energy needed to be shifted. He wondered if I might find a Native American to smudge me with sage to move through it. I remembered where my sage was, but it wasn't in this trailer...it was in my other one, with all my other belongings. I envisioned it and recalled the smell, visualizing a new reality where my animals and I are blessed, protected by the Universe and my Angel. That night I turned the page, deciding that I Could do this! The critters and I decided to stay an extra night in Flagstaff. The massive charcoal and lily-white clouds continued all the next day, holding the temps back as we sat parked in a lovely ranch, called Summer Sage Stables. It has a gorgeous barn with paddocks off of each stall. We were the sole campers, though Mortana was surrounded by a handful of other horses with whom she had a little conversation. Still, she was a bit jittery in this ranch, perhaps because she didn't have the freedom of a pasture. I always think she desires the companionship of other equine, but I felt she was perfectly happy to move on down the road. Chalk it up to chemistry I suppose. The guys who replaced the glass in the truck were awesome. I won't forget Diamond Auto Glass! They delivered me to a sweet diner in the charming downtown Flagstaff so I could enjoy breakfast while they did their work, and picked me up when they were finished. It had been years since I had French toast, bacon and eggs and it was the perfect comfort food! I continued to revel at what a gift it is to breathe clean air again.
I've observed since Mortana came into my life that she loves adventure. I didn't realize what a trooper she is. She loaded up and unloaded so sweetly the entire journey. Thank You Annika, our trainer who helped correct that important training detail. Mortana is a dream companion and traveler!
The next night we pulled into an old Thoroughbred ranch in Edgewood NM called Hacienda Caballo where Mortana had about 3 acres to run in, with horses on either side to visit. She thought she'd died and gone to heaven. When she turned out into that pasture, she bolted and continued romping until dinner was served. The owner Joe lent me his jeep so I could leave my truck hitched to the trailer and drum up a pizza in town. I've always loved the southwest. This ranch was in the foothills and very quiet. The cocktail of the week was Pina-Colada, with fresh pineapple, coconut milk, half a lime squeeze, a double shot of Patron Silver Tequila and a splash of maple syrup.
We skipped through the Texas panhandle and shot straight to Oklahoma City. I always thought my native ancestors had been dumped in a dust pit, and was quite surprised that everything was green. The freeways were suddenly grass lined. The softly rolling hills lulled us, though the humidity was the first I'd experienced thus far. We were met by a sweet gentleman who tucked Mortana into a large arena where she could run. The only other choices were green pastures and green paddocks. Being a Morgan, Mortana has a tendency toward Hypo-Metabolism, which is like horse diabetes. The sugars in that green grass are a no-no for her, though we've had to modify that idea since we arrived in NC and she's now acclimated to it. The first thing she did in Oklahoma was lay down. I panicked, thinking the stress of the trip had made her colic, but it turned out that the wretched freeway and resulting hard ride had finally overwhelmed her and she was simply exhausted. I went to fetch her a bucket of water, but by the time I got to the other side of the arena she was already standing. What a Relief! Or as Billy would say, What a We WEEF!
The next day brought us to another Thoroughbred ranch near Little Rock Arkansas. This one was a working ranch though, with a track where people ran their horses. Oh, how I wished Mortana's saddle wasn't in the other trailer...she loves to run! Here I learned what 'sweltering' meant. I mean this place was seriously hot...like you were stuck in a 3 x 3 box in a POW camp! Step out of the trailer and you're wet from head to toe. I simply had to find some cooler clothes to wear. The cotton leggings and my Goat Rock freezing all the time gear was simply not going to work!
Tennessee was where the real beauty of the south began to enter my bloodstream. A lovely man named Paul hosted us in an awesome ranch called 'A River Runs Through It', in the gorgeous countryside near Franklin. The first thing that Paul did was to mow the round-pen down so that Mortana wouldn't get too much green grass that night. He joined me for a long chat where we realized how aligned we are politically and in lifestyle. He toured me through the very cool barn/B&B that owner Valerie had appointed in classic western styling, all the way down to a portable claw footed bathtub which Paul rolled to the edge of the barn! He slide open the massive doors, hitched the hose up to an on-demand water heater and left me to the silhouette of distant trees and fireflies, the site of which I hadn't seen since I was a child in Massachusetts. This was Andrea HEAVEN! I was enchanted by the whole scene and felt that Paul would make a great land partner, somewhere down the line. We rested well before the last leg of our journey into North Carolina.
I've never been one who follows GPS unless I don't have a map. That contraption always feels like someone behind it is into practical jokes, sending anyone stupid enough to rely on it into crazy, round about routes that end up taking three times longer to arrive. The route it decided upon from southern Tennessee was no exception, though I wasn't complaining because it took me not along I40 into Asheville, but up through Tennessee's Smokey Mountains which I was quite curious about. Did they meet up to the Blue Ridge Mountains? I wasn't sure. It seemed we took at least 20 turns onto little roads that went through tiny mountain towns, all of which were called highways and had numbers. Left 5 miles, right 2 miles, 10 miles down and left again, 15 miles to the right and 2 miles to the right...and on and on. I felt like I was entering the mountains that had been calling me for the last year through the side door, or armpit, though it wasn't smelly. My only concern was that this had been such a long trip for Mortana. Every turn and bump is felt by a horse traveling in the back of a trailer. It's a major workout for horses steadying themselves for these trips we take them on. She is a real trooper though...and adjusted beautifully to every change I dragged her through. This lovely GPS route ended up bringing us from southern Tennessee into Leatherwood Mountains from the north, which meant down an enchanting gravel road I'd taken when I visited several months earlier. 4.9 miles from our destination, a tree had come down into the road. (A road I now know well and LOVE, called Triplet.). It was a big one and although I knew I could make it with my truck, I wasn't sure if my trailer would clear it. The opposite side was a very soggy drop off into a creek! I laughed! Of course there was no cell signal. I thought, 'After what we've been through, this tree is CERTAINLY not going to stop us. I got out and accessed the situation and decided to inch my way up to it. We cleared it by about 2 inches and landed in Leatherwood just before dark.
There is a man here named Wayne who is about the kindest, salt of the earth character you could possibly meet. Wayne not only took the time to set us up in a prime spot on the creek, one that is higher than most of the others (important when the flash floods risk floating everything you own down the road), but he's been here to make me feel comfortable and welcomed. He brought about 30 tractor loads of dirt to fill Mortana's shelter, which the last flood had stolen and left with a lake in the middle. He raised my small trailer off it's axle so that it isn't burdened by the weight. He's funny and kind and a very nice friend.
It's taken me a month to begin this blog, though I've started it at least 25 times in my head. So many details are missed here, but there's live music a-callin and I've really got to run!
More as the story unfolds in the green green Blue Ridge Mountains!
To see exactly where we've landed, go to LeatherwoodMountains.com